Sunday, September 18, 2011

Founding of the NAACP

In June 1905 Du Bois and a rebellious group of blacks met on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and drew up a platform for aggressive action. The group's name came from the location of the first meeting -- the Niagara Movement. The movement never gained a membership of more than 400, and it dissolved at the end of five years.

Niagara Movement

The immediate cause of the founding of the NAACP was the riot on the night of August 14, 1908 that devastated Springfield, Illinois, the town where the Great Emancipator lay entombed. It signaled that the race problem was no longer regional but national (Lewis 1994:387). Whites called a conference for Lincoln's birthday 1909. Some members of the Niagara Movement, most prominently Du Bois, threw in their lot with the biracial NAACP when it began to function in 1910. In that year Du Bois joined the organization's staff as director of research and editor of its magazine, The Crisis.
1908 Race Riot in Springfield, Illinois

Legal action became the main tactic of the NAACP. In 1915 the NAACP won a Supreme Court suit that invalidated the "grandfather clause" which made it illegal for most Southern blacks to vote. The NAACP's tactic of educational persuasion was based on the premise that white Americans would treat blacks as equals once they overcame their own ignorance. This message was well-suited to the liberal philosophy of the founders (Morris 84:14).

Conservative and Liberal Blacks

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois

Martial (1944:743) wrote that the two traditions of conservatism and liberalism, the same that have always existed among the whites, existed in the black community. The fight between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois established the dominant pattern of political thinking among blacks and whites in the South during the period of Jim Crow dominance. Groups of followers assembled behind these two men and their successors. These two political outlooks continued as dual systems, but it is important to note that neither fundamentally threatened the Southern white system of domination. In the South, the NAACP was always a relatively weak organization. In the Jim Crow era virtually the entire political spectrum in the South basically worked within and accommodated to the racist system.

Vernon Johns

You can bet that Martial never met Vernon Johns. Johns did not approve of either side of this debate and their associated ways of thinking. And in this sense he was a maverick and a rebel. His thoughts were beyond this debate and because he did he inspired those who eventually carried out the destruction of the Southern apartheid system, Martin Luther King Jr. being the foremost of these. Johns had disdain for the conservatives for their accommodation to the system of segregation. But Johns also disliked the NAACP for pretty much the same reason. He felt they were not really fighting hard enough against the segregationist system. Their legal approach was too slow and too ineffective for Johns. He also did not like the NAACP because it was elitist, representing the interests and approaches of the black middle class. Vernon Johns was no gradualist. And therefore he was beyond the political spectrum as it existed in the white and black communities. That is why, as we shall see, he was largely ignored both by conservatives and liberals. (source: Chapter 5 Vernon Johns Attends Virginia Seminary, 1912-1914)

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